Monday, January 13, 2014

Stepping Stones to Murder


From Glo Magazine
January 9
So, have you read the first installment of the murder serial novel, "Stepping Stones To Murder," in January's issue of GloMagazine yet? It's also online at www.glo-mag.com. We don't know about you guys, but we're hooked! It's set right here in Fort Wayne thanks to local author Margarite St. John. The story will continue in February's Glo... whodunit?
 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Crime Writing Workshop

Our friend and author, Peggy Sue Wells, has asked us to lead an interactive workshop on crime writing at the Roanoke Library on Thursday, February 20, 2014.  Our presentation, entitled The Twelve-Step Program for Writing a Mystery Novel, includes a worksheet that guides an author through the initial stages of constructing a mystery novel.  We’ll provide more details as the date approaches.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Art of Death

In November, our eighth novel, The Art of Death, will be available through Amazon on Kindle and in a high-quality trade paperback.  Here’s a thumbnail sketch of the book:

The much-married Madeleine Harrod is a beautiful and talented woman obsessed with death.  She sees things no one else sees.  As one of the best forensic artists in the country, she visualizes the face of an unidentified skull before she reconstructs it.  She owns Appledorn Exploratorium, which makes spooky scientific toys for a global market.  Her oil paintings of dead people -- haunting and expensive -- sell nationally.

Despite her success, Madeleine is troubled.  She hasn’t been her old self since, at the age of eleven during a picnic at the Dunes, she tried to rescue a girlfriend carried away by a riptide.  Her psychiatrist and old-world beau, Dr. Beltrami, is more Svengali than healer.  She suffers from nightmares and sleepwalking and believes she has lived many other lives.

And then, at the peak of Madeleine’s success, a strange man in yachting clothes begins following her, mysteriously appearing where he’s least wanted.  “Captain Ahab” threatens to reveal a secret about the accident at the Dunes.  Though Madeleine carries the marks of his violence on her wrist, no one else believes he exists -- until he murders another of Madeleine’s childhood friends.

One by one, the people closest to Madeleine are found dead.  Can the illusory Captain Ahab be stopped before he kills again? 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Upcoming Events with Glo Magazine

Glo Magazine has asked us to partner with it for a book signing at next year’s Tapestry and to contribute a four-part serial mystery for its January - April 2014 issues.  We’re honored to be chosen, for Northeastern Indiana boasts many fine women authors.

Glo is a free monthly magazine for women in the Fort Wayne area, with a circulation of over 20,000. 

On Friday, April 25, 2014, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., we will sign and sell our books in Glo’s booth at Tapestry.  On its Facebook page, Tapestry: A Day for You characterizes itself as “a day of inspiration, renewal, and education for women in all stages of life.” The annual event, which is held at the Allen County Memorial Coliseum, raises funds for women’s scholarships at IPFW.  The keynote speaker in 2014 will be comedic actress Marilu Henner.  It’s a day for conversation with friends, food (breakfast and lunch), education (breakout sessions), and shopping at boutique booths.  We hope to see you there!

We have a connection of sorts with Glo.  In Chapter 5 of Agenda for Murder (our seventh murder mystery), we reference an article in the December 2012 issue of Glo by Amber Recker about boudoir photography.

Our friend, Barb Sieminski, a freelance writer/photographer in Fort Wayne, is also important to the novel.  She has been a feature writer for the magazine since its inception.  In Chapter 39 of Agenda for Murder, she is mentioned (by first name only and with her advance permission); the events involving “Barb” as an investigative reporter are entirely fictional. 

The real-life Barb Sieminski was important to the story in an entirely different way:  When we started the book, she had an assignment from Rebekah Whirledge, Glo’s editor, to write a feature about swingers.  We had already received a tip from someone else about swingers’ clubs in Fort Wayne, but Barb confirmed their existence and pointed us to a relevant web site that allowed us to do our research virtually.  

Our reference in Agenda for Murder to Recker’s article and our mention of Barb were not contrived to get us noticed by Glo but instead entirely organic to the story, rooting fictional events in time and place. 

We also mention many other Fort Wayne businesses and landmarks in Agenda for Murder, including Chop’s Wine Bar, Riegel’s cigar store, the Landing Historic District, Concordia Lutheran cemetery, our international airport, Fort Wayne’s police department, Sycamore Hills Golf Club, One Summit Square, Parkview YMCA, the Journal Gazette, Ruby Tuesday, TJ Maxx, 4D’s Bar & Grill, J K O’Donnell’s, the Embassy Theatre, Paula’s, and Eddie Merlot’s. 

Our first two books, Face Off and Monuments to Murder, were set in southwest Florida.  But the next five murder mysteries occur in Fort Wayne and also mention local landmarks and businesses:  Murder for Old Times’ Sake, The Girl with a Curl, Hot as a Firecracker, Agenda for Murder, and (forthcoming) The Art of Death.  Our Christmas book, Postcards from a Tuscan Christmas, is set in Tuscany, Italy.  A mystery without the murder, it features familiar characters from our other Fort Wayne books. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Response to Beekman review


This is our response to an abusive review of Murder for Old Times’ Sake
Criticism:  Even though Beeckman praises the storyline and plot of Murder for Old Times’ Sake as great and creative, inducing her to read to the end, she gives the book only one star.  What she doesn’t like is our writing style (including grammar), our character development (including voice), our use of local landmarks, or our knowledge of geography.  A few words about those concepts might help both our readers, our browsers, and curious writing students. 
My Credentials.  I’ve been writing almost every day of my life since I was a little girl. I’m now one-half the team using the pen name Margarite St. John.
I have a Ph.D. in literature from The University of Chicago, as well as a J.D. from The University of Chicago Law School.  I wrote my doctoral thesis on the mystery novels of Ross Macdonald.  Some of Macdonald’s Lew Archer novels were made into Hollywood movies.  I learned to like popular culture, especially the mystery genre, though I also knew I’d never write in the hard-boiled or noir genre of Macdonald.  Fortunately, my sister, who is just as literate and well read as I am, devises great mysteries in a style of her own.
For six years before becoming a lawyer I taught basic and creative writing and both American and English literature, including a graduate course on the novels of Jane Austen, at a Chicago college.  Even before becoming a college professor, I edited scientific and technical publications for the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute in Chicago.  As a lawyer, I received an award for journalism from the Chicago Bar Association and wrote a weekly column for Illinois Legal Times for several years.  I wrote and published my first newsletter for the Junior Red Cross, distributed to all the schools in Cerro Gordo County, Iowa, when I was a junior in high school and have edited several professional newsletters since then.  As a lawyer, I wrote hundreds of briefs. 
Our Readers:  We don’t know most of our readers, of course, but a few we do know.  They’re college educated women who have been or are still in the work force as engineers, teachers, librarians, secretaries, businesswomen, lawyers, nurses, artists, medical technicians, and similar professionals.  A few of our fans are men, including at least one we know of in his early twenties and another closer to my age.  Our readers are not limited to the United States.  All of them have a taste for mystery, a sense of humor, and an appreciation of good prose.
Voice:  Beeckman says we don’t know voice.  Here’s what we know about voice.
Voice refers to a character’s patterns of speech, thought, and emotion. 
As to speech, voice does not require that every character speak entirely differently in terms of vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, or word usage.  Some characters in our book have tag lines (Drago and Todd in particular); on occasion some speak ungrammatically; some speak in stream of consciousness (Todd again); some use different kinds of slang.  Such distinctions have to be used sparingly; if overdone, they irritate more than they entertain or illuminate.  Moreover, people from the same class with the same education living in the same part of the country in the same era speak in similar ways. 
What is markedly different is our characters’ patterns of thought and emotion, two other aspects of “voice.”  And those patterns differentiate our characters so that one cannot be confused with another, even in the same scene.  Compare Phyllis and her sister Ruth on the subject of mixed marriages and dead bodies; Rolie and Drago on their views of filial love; Lexie and Jean on work habits; Judge Grinderman and Bob Passwatter on the religious education of children; Xiu-Xiu and her sister Tiffany Jean on honesty and money; and so forth.  A reader has to work hard at confusing them. 
One more thing about dialogue.  It is the most misunderstood aspect of fiction writing.  No fictional dialogue is natural.  If it were, it would be unreadable.  The pauses, digressions, lack of antecedents for pronouns, needless repetitions, disagreements between subject and verb, incorrect verb tenses, dropped subjects, elisions, and misused words in spoken language, if set down verbatim, would make reading unbearable.  That’s why fiction is fiction, not a documentary.  Listen to yourself.  Or read the transcript of witness testimony in a trial (as I have).  Listen to a sportscaster nattering on without notes or a news anchor whose teleprompter malfunctions.  Suffer through our politicians’ off-the-cuff remarks.  It will drive you insane. 
Fort Wayne landmarks and names:  Beeckman doesn’t like the mention of Fort Wayne landmarks.  The use of locations is not a matter of right or wrong but of taste.  Most of our readers aren’t from Fort Wayne or even the Midwest; they enjoy the names. 
A novel is not a general story but a specific one, rooted in time and place.  Places have names.  Some of the names we give to places are real.  Some locations, especially those where a bad thing happens, are created to protect the innocent.  We do not use “big family [Fort Wayne] name(s)”; all are fictional.  We do not spell out locations in useless detail.  We keep it simple. 
For enlightenment on the use of location (even locations far more involved than ours and arguably unnecessary to describe) read Dominick Dunne and Peter Mayle. 
Geography of the Midwest:  Beeckman says we lack basic geographical knowledge of the states surrounding Indiana.  How strange!  We’ve lived in four of them and traveled to all fifty states.  As a Chicago lawyer, I traveled in and out of Chicago’s airports  at least two dozen times a year for forty years.
Rhetorical devices:  Beeckman believes starting several consecutive short sentences with the same two words is bad. 
Repeating a structure like “Set aside” (which Beeckman saw in a comment) is a rhetorical device for emphasis.  Its very point is to engage the reader.  Most readers have not taken courses in rhetoric or taught them, as I have, but rhetorical devices enliven prose even if a reader can’t spot or doesn’t care about the technique.  Fiction is all about persuading a reader that an imagined life is real enough to be engaging.  Thus rhetorical devices, which are basically techniques for persuasion and emphasis, are useful, even necessary in fiction. 
Educated readers like rhetorical devices.  Consider the Ten Commandments (“Thou shalt”) or Jesus’ Beatitudes (“Blessed are”).  Read the great orations of the ancient Greeks and Romans, Shakespeare’s plays, or C. S. Lewis’s wonderful essays on religion.
True, we merely write murder mysteries for entertainment.  Even if we wrote in a more serious genre, we would not be in the same league with those towering figures, of course.  But there’s no reason mystery writers should not employ all the techniques used by the best of the best.  
Grammar.  Our grammar is impeccable.  Beeckman mistakes the occasional proofreading error for a grammatical.  Grammar is about syntax and structure, not about punctuation, spelling, or the occasional proofreading error (though we try very hard not to overlook any little thing that might detract from the books).  True, a few middling style guides include spelling and punctuation with grammar, but that’s why they’re middling style guides.  Anyone who has made a proofreading error, raise your hand.  Oh, okay.  That’s a hundred percent of you!
Writing about what we know:  Beeckman advises us to write about what we know.  It’s a perversion of a truism that an author should write about what she knows.  If that truism were carried out literally, no fiction would ever be written -- at least none that anyone with a brain would read.  If it were, J.K. Rowling couldn’t have written the Harry Potter series, or Mary Higgins Clark her girl-in-trouble mysteries, or Stephen King his thrillers.  (I’m a little less sure of whether Stuart Woods has lived every minute of Stone Barrington’s life.)
Literary criticism:  Like most reviewers, Beeckman is not a trained literary critic.  I don’t expect her to be.  Reviewing a book is a casual, very personal exercise.  Reviewers don’t need to know what types of literary criticism are considered acceptable.  But the biographical or personal approach is the least favored because it requires so much uninformed inference rather than close attention to the text.  Trying to psychoanalyze an author the reader doesn’t know reveals too much about the reviewer and not enough about the book.  And it doesn’t help a browser decide whether to become a reader.  

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Local sisters the writers behind Margarite St. John murder-mystery books


By Barb Sieminski of The News-Sentinel
May 25, 2013

Margaret Yoder, left, and Johnine Brown go over some
of their published books together in Yoder's backyard.
The sisters meet for coffee several times a week to
plot the evil deeds that will take place as they write their
murder-mystery books.
(By Barb Sieminski for The News-Sentinel)


Margaret Yoder looks like a sweet Bible Study Fellowship leader — which she is. But no one would suspect that behind her pious countenance beats the plotting heart of an ice-cold murderer.

Her sister Johnine Brown, a retired lawyer and 16 1/2 years older, similarly dotes on graphic stabbings, poisonings, swingers' clubs, spectacular car explosions — and, um, kinky underwear fetishes.

The local Iowa-born siblings, who were straight-A students in English, have been collaborating on murder mysteries the last four years under the pseudonym Margarite St. John. Their just-published eighth book, “Agenda for Murder,” will be out this month.

“Our books feature numerous Fort Wayne landmarks as well as places from our travels, especially in the deep South,” said Brown, a former assistant professor in Chicago State University's English department.

“To date, we have published eight books, six of which are murder mysteries,” Brown said. The two other books are a Christmas novella and a nonfiction.

“Our royalty statements indicate our books are selling in Great Britain as well as here,” Brown noted.

The sisters, avid readers who have designated themselves as The Scribe (Brown) and the Storyteller (Yoder), pride themselves on keeping up with technology advances benefiting writers.

“We grew up in the age of typewriters, mimeograph machines, party-line telephones and inadequate libraries. Computers, printers, and digital technology have changed everything,” said Brown.

“Writing is much easier on a computer than on a typewriter,” she said. “Changes are quickly and easily made, allowing instant rewriting. Computers also allow instant access to the Internet for research, and home printers make it easy for both of us to review and revise drafts so that the ideas don't get stale.

“And working with our editorial assistant, cover designer and publisher is efficient because of email,” she said.

“When our first mystery novel was published on Kindle, we were, respectively, 55 and 71 years old,” said Yoder, a crossword puzzle addict with a bachelor's degree in education from IPFW.

But age hasn't slowed them down.

“'Agenda for Murder' took about 12 weeks to write and runs 93,500 words, which means we averaged 1,100 words a day seven days a week,” Brown said. “The other two weeks are spent rewriting, editing, checking research and proofreading. Actual publication doesn't occur for another two or three weeks to allow our experts to design a cover, code the manuscript and design the format. Finally, we review proofs.”

The duo does not take research and fact-checking lightly. Brown, who is already beginning work on their next book, recently obtained a toy facial reconstruction kit from Amazon.com.

“Unbelievably, there are toy kits allowing a person to try forensic reconstruction at home,” explained Brown, who enjoys making jewelry in her spare time. “I've ordered one for the sake of authenticity because our heroine will have designed a kit for her forensic work on dead people when skulls are found and reconstruction is the last resort to try to identify the victim.”

For more information or to purchase their books, visit their website www.margaritestjohn.com or their blog at www.margaritestjohn.blogspot.com. They will have a book signing sometime in June.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

New Murder Mystery

 
In May we will publish our seventh novel, Agenda for Murder. As the title suggests, it's a murder mystery with a political theme. The political theme stems from Agenda 21, the United Nations' action plan to protect the environment.
 
Don’t turn away because we mentioned politics.  The story is a rollicking good mystery told through the words and actions of memorable characters.  And in its understated way it’s often very funny.
 
FORT WAYNE
The story takes place in Fort Wayne.
 
Surprisingly, the City of Fort Wayne embraces the tenets of Agenda 21, a United Nations’ action plan for land use that ostensibly protects the environment.  But in protecting the environment, Agenda 21 pushes local governments to become tyrannical.  Individual landowners remain responsible for taxes, insurance, and maintenance but control of its use is transferred to the government and to unaccountable so-called “stakeholders” who have no tangible stake in anything. 
 
Agenda 21 rests on a number of vicious and unsupported assumptions:  the environment is fragile and far more precious than human beings; government makes better decisions than individuals; some people should work hard to support everyone else; socialism is better than capitalism; religious views have no place in public life; the United States has too much freedom, too many resources, and too much prosperity. 
 
Many Agenda 21 supporters view humans -- other than themselves, of course -- as a virus, a parasite, a plague infecting Mother Earth. 
 
Fort Wayne, the City of Churches, was once listed on various websites as a member of the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, an organization of local governments adopting Agenda 21 principles.  It is apparently no longer a member, but many of its policies about land use (including conversion of farmland to other uses), water conservation, waste disposal, landscaping, rain collection, greenways, sewerage, and recycling (among others) reflect the UN’s views.  Little by little, these policies limit individual freedom in the name of the general welfare. 
 
Under Agenda 21, the individual has the importance of a bug; the collective has the importance of an emperor.
 
The City of Fort Wayne in our novel is a fictional version of the real city.  In the book, the fictional Planning Department imposes requirements on Steve Wright, a local developer, that are not supported in law.  Remember, the Planning Department is fictional.  What is not fictional is that government agencies at all levels frequently try to impose more onerous requirements on developers than the law allows.  The developer’s choice is to accede to the heightened, costly, and unlawful requirements or shoulder the very costly burdens of delays and court fights. 
 
The reader can judge for himself whether some of the real city may be glimpsed in the fictional.
 
AGENDA 21
Agenda 21 undermines the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution protecting individual rights to property and to due process and just compensation if property is confiscated for public use.  The theory of Agenda 21 supporters is that all property belongs to the public or the government.  Agenda 21 also undermines national sovereignty on the theory that to protect “human rights” (which to the U.N. means those granted by global government, not God) and to promote social justice (which can only be defined in the collective) all nations should enact the same laws as dictated by a global one-world order.
 
COMPARISON OF AGENDA 21 TO SCRIPTURE
Agenda 21 is based on a philosophy that is the opposite of the Judaeo-Christian reading of Scripture.  Here are a few comparisons:
 
Scripture:   God created man in his own image.
Agenda 21:  Man is nothing special but merely an unhappy accident of evolution.
 
Scripture:  God created everything in the universe.
Agenda 21:  The universe mysteriously came into existence out of nothing all by itself.
 
Scripture:  God created what we call nature.
Agenda 21:  Mother Nature has nothing to do with God.
 
Scripture:   God created both man and land animals on the sixth day.
Agenda 21:  Animals evolved first and therefore own all the land as habitat.
 
Scripture:   God blessed mankind.
Agenda 21:  Mankind is a nuisance, a plague, a parasite, a virus.
 
Scripture:   God told us to be fruitful and increase in number.
Agenda 21:  The human population has to be reduced by unspecified means -- no doubt sparing Agenda 21 supporters.
 
Scripture:  God told us to fill the earth.
Agenda 21:  Humans should be prevented from using or occupying as much land as possible.
 
Scripture:   God told us to subdue the earth and rule over it.
Agenda 21:  Mankind is subservient to the earth.
 
Scripture:  God placed Adam and Eve in a garden and after the Fall told Adam to till the soil.
Agenda 21:  Wilderness from which humans are barred is preferable to gardens, parks, and manicured lawns, and farms are a major source of pollution.
 
Scripture:  God gave mankind free will to choose between good and evil.
Agenda 21:  Only the ruling elite can identify what is “good” and the “good” must be forced upon everyone by ridicule, rules, fines, taxes, useless certifications, trade barriers, penalties, jail time, deprivation, and confiscation.
 
Scripture:  Adam was to earn his living by the sweat of his brow.
Agenda 21:  All the slackers and shirkers also earn their living by the sweat of Adam’s brow.
 
The list is endless but we’ll stop here.  Our view is that Agenda 21 is diabolical in its hatred of mankind and its worship of the Creation (which Agenda 21 supporters do not admit is a creation) rather than the Creator. 
 
EXCITING MYSTERY
But we have not written a polemic on Agenda 21.  We write fiction -- exciting mysteries, we hope. 
 
So our book is about the character of the people pushing the UN’s political views on a wide range of issues:  freedom of speech and religion, control of capital, use of fossil fuels, animal rights, self-defense, equality of outcome, population control -- and, of course, land use.  One need only get on the Internet to find dozens of instances in which one-world globalists are idolators, sexual perverts, rapists, scam artists, slackers, thieves, and even murderers.  The real world is rich with examples of do-gooder hypocrites whose antics would be hilarious if the consequences weren’t so vile.  We have not based our characters on real-world people, however.  They are products of our imagination.
 
One of the central characters pushing Agenda 21 in our book is a man who claims to be a God-fearing man, though none of his actions support that claim.  He’s the “goodwill ambassador” for the Midwest Community Alliance for Social Development (a fictional organization with characteristics of real ones).   As nefarious characters often do, he misuses Scripture to cloak his wolfish purposes in sheepskin.  As the story developed, we found him throwing out threats taken from the Bible. 
 
BIBLICAL ILLITERACY
The Bible is the richest source of common phrases anyone can find, yet most people don’t know that.  The reason?  They don’t read the Bible.  They use biblical phrases without knowing the source, the context, or the meaning, or they confuse what is biblical with what is secular.  That is true even in the United States, where most people claim to be Christian. 
 
Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli say that we are a nation of Bible illiterates, either not recognizing the words of Scripture or wrongly attributing cultural clich├ęs to the Bible.  For example, many people think the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham, Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife, and Sodom and Gomorrah were man and wife.  Others wrongly believe that the saying “God helps those who help themselves” is a Bible proverb and that the primary teaching of the Bible is to take care of one’s family.
 
Still other people know the Bible but deliberately misuse it.  Here are a few of the biblical phrases our “goodwill ambassador” throws around.
 
BIBLICAL PHRASES
Reap the whirlwind:  In Chapter 2, the Ambassador threatens Scut, the owner of a gentleman’s club, with reaping the whirlwind if he doesn’t hand over protection money to the Alliance.  The phrase, which is found in numerous passages in the Bible, predicts bad consequences for doing evil, such as worshiping idols.  In our book, the threat is used ironically, for it is the Ambassador, who worships idols -- himself and the gods of global oppression -- and thus it is he who will reap the whirlwind.  And for Scut to refuse to be extorted is not to do evil, so the threat is misdirected.
 
I know where you live:  In Chapter 32, the Ambassador once again threatens Scut, who turns the tables by disclosing the Ambassador’s sexual perversion.  This time the Ambassador says he knows where Scut lives, suggesting that he can find and kill Scut.  In Revelation, Jesus warns the church in Pergamum that He knows where they live -- where Satan has his throne.  In other words, He knows that in their hearts they worship idols.
 
In common usage, the phrase is a threat of violence, and that is how the Ambassador uses it.
 
The writing is on the wall:  In Chapter 52, the Ambassador is told that he has a week to pay the enormous bills he’s charged to his friend’s law firm.  The Ambassador is enraged and screams out the Aramaic words written on the wall in the book of Daniel (Daniel 5: 25, 26).  The inscription on the wall is “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN,” Aramaic words for weights or coins (mina, shekel and half mina/shekel).  The words are inscrutable to everyone but Daniel, who is informed by God as to their meaning.  The words, when properly interpreted, warn King Belshazzar that his days are numbered, he’s been found wanting, and his kingdom will be given to Darius the Mede. 
 
Again, the Ambassador’s use of these words is both serious and ironic.  Serious, because the Ambassador reveals his murderous intentions toward people who thwart him, even his best friend.  And ironic, because in reality it is the Ambassador’s days that are numbered, not his friend’s.
 
Love of money:  Also in Chapter 52, the Ambassador and his lawyer friend accuse each other of loving money.  Those are serious charges and both are true.  Even some Christians are confused about God’s view of money, however.  Many passages in Scripture condemn not money but the love of money, for one cannot love both God and money.  God made the patriarchs and the kings of Israel, especially David and Solomon, very rich indeed.  He does not condemn prosperity or material comfort.  He warns, however, that money should not become an idol, and the Bible contains many examples of how easy it is to forget God as the source of all blessings when one is rich.
 
I take shadow in God’s wings:   In Chapter 57, a cigarette lighter taken as a souvenir by a murderer is returned to the victim’s mother, together with a business card with the handwritten message, “I take shadow in God’s wings,” a paraphrase of a sentiment expressed in Psalm 17:8, where David seeks protection from his mortal enemies.  The signature on the card is meant to mislead the victim’s mother about the identity of the murderer.  The Bible phrase twists King David’s prayer into its opposite meaning:  the evil murderer claims that God Himself is protecting him from punishment.
 
SEXUAL PERVERSION
Some of our readers want to see more sex in our books.  Unlike romance novels, murder mysteries do not really lend themselves to explicit sexual scenes, and we are incapable of writing them anyway. 
 
However, when we were about to start Agenda for Murder, two separate, unrelated sources told us about sex clubs in Fort Wayne.  We never had the courage to check them out personally, even in the name of research, but we’ve read about them.  As it happens, their existence fit perfectly with the vices of two of our central characters.  How often has a politician or international official or famous movie star or admired corporate executive or churchman been publicly humiliated when a sexual perversion surfaced -- exhibitionism, secret homosexuality, infidelity, pedophilia, addiction to pornography, even rape.  Sex is frequently the vice of choice for the rich, famous, and powerful.
 
Thus, in Agenda for Murder, the Free Willys, a loose collection of swingers, are the inspiration for the more formal Caviar Club, an upscale nightclub for swingers founded and frequented by our central characters who wear virtuous faces in public.  In fact, the climactic scene takes place in The Caviar Club.  The scenes in The Caviar Club are as funny as they are disgusting.
 
In short, Agenda for Murder has much more to say about sex than our previous books, but hunting for the sexy scenes won’t be as titillating as doing the same thing in a book by Jackie Collins or Danielle Steele.
 
SERENDIPITY 
We began writing Agenda for Murder the second week of January.  Besides entertaining and mystifying our readers, we intended to expose the dark side of Agenda 21.  One of Agenda 21’s claims is that it will produce a sustainable, eco-friendly life for all by using as few natural resources and as little carbon-based energy as possible -- by subjugating human needs to protection of Mother Earth.  So what happens in February during the Super Bowl in New Orleans’ super eco-friendly Mercedes-Benz stadium?  The lights go out for over half an hour.  We couldn’t pass that one up.
 
DIVERSITY
Diversity is the catchword of the bigoted. 
 
Bigots see everything in terms of race, religion, age, and gender -- and also academic degrees, ethnicity, and sexual persuasion.  They see everyone but themselves as bigots.  That’s how our fictional Ambassador, who makes cheap appeals to race to one of the other black men in the book, sees the world.  That’s how our young people are being taught by a largely left-wing academia to see the world.
 
In our fictional world, diversity is not a goal but but a side benefit of -- take your pick -- just policy, humane tradition, the Judaeo-Christian ethos, a meritocracy, a republic with a constitution like ours, or just living life as it comes. 
 
The characters in our stories are diverse, not because we force the issue, but because we draw from all aspects of life -- and this book references the United Nations, after all. 
 
Thus, our characters include business owners and entrepreneurs, doctors and lawyers, stylists and secretaries and cashiers, city planners and police detectives, investigative reporters and interior decorators, and impresarios of sex clubs. 
 
They include Christians and Jews and the unaffiliated along the continuum of faith from believers to agnostics to atheists. 
 
Most are straight but one man in the jargon of Sex and the City is a gay straight man. 
 
They are white, black, American Indian, Asian, Hispanic, African and various mixtures thereof. 
 
Some are very rich, others not at all, and most struggle to rise to or stay in the middle class. 
 
Some hold doctorates, some never went to college.  Wisdom and education are not perfectly correlated.
 
None of our characters are perfect.  Some claim to be good but aren’t; others claim no virtue at all but won’t have a hard time answering to God.  And then there are the people you don’t want to meet in a dark alley.
 
EPIGRAPHS
We like epigraphs -- beginning quotations -- before each of the three parts of the novel.  In this case, before each part, we quote one of the ten commandments, a quotation from Margaret Thatcher, and a two-line statement purportedly from a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
 
The Bible quotations are three of the ten commandments, starting with covetousness and leading to theft and murder.  Covetousness underlies Agenda 21.  Most of the nations belonging to the United Nations hate the United States and envy its prosperity.  Sometimes they are blatant about the desire to transfer our wealth to them.  Sometimes they conceal the envy in virtuous-sounding policies, such as Agenda 21.  Unchecked covetousness when thwarted leads to other crimes, such as theft and murder.
 
Margaret Thatcher’s pronouncements are both wise and funny, especially the one about the Good Samaritan.  Adding them as epigraphs was an afterthought.  Sadly, she died while we were writing the book.  The worldwide media coverage of her career reminded us of how trenchant her thinking was.
 
The mocking quotes from an unnamed ambassador are wholly the creation of our dark minds.  One reader told us she thought we were quoting former ambassador John Bolton because the astringency and humor sound like him.  But we aren’t.  We’re flattered, though, if people think an insider really said those things.
 
SWINGERS IN THE NEWS
As coincidence would have it, the same month we were readying Agenda for Murder for publication, Glo, a local women’s periodical, contained a feature by Barb Sieminski about swingers in Fort Wayne, the City of Churches.  The article as edited makes the vice seem almost reasonable and defensible.  The overall tone is of moral relativism:  swinging is just as virtuous as marital fidelity -- maybe more virtuous.  The only reason swingers have to keep their identities secret is not the shameful nature of their perversion but the viciousness of the rest of the world, which is ignorant and judgmental.  
 
Here’s the comment submitted by the Scribe to Glo’s editor.   
 
As always, Barb Sieminski’s latest article about swingers is well written and interesting, but it reads as if something had been edited out. The quotes from a swinging couple “justify” or “excuse” the perversion: everybody cheats (everybody?), swinging keeps us from cheating (what do you think you’re doing?), our love is unconditional (then why demean it?), we go home together (that’s a relief!), it’s legal (but not moral), we’d be victims if people knew who we were (oh, those rampaging religious nuts!), we have safe sex (exactly how safe?), our kids know nothing about what we do (oh, sure!), and we’re going to get married some day (why?).  Comparing swingers to Masons is ludicrous; Masons do not hide their identities and they aren’t hedonists.  The fact that Spinner’s mother was a swinger is a thread to be followed all the way into the labyrinth.  And unless more is revealed about what swingers actually do, the sin is air-brushed out of the picture and moral relativism takes over.